15 March 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: All-New All-Different DC, Part I: Manhunter: Street Justice

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2005 (contents: 2004-05)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2016
Manhunter: Street Justice

Writer: Marc Andreyko
Penciller: Jesus Saiz
Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colorist: Steve Buccellato
Letterers: Phil Balsman, Jared K. Fletcher, Pat Brosseau

These days Marvel gets a lot of praise, and rightly so, for its "All-New All-Different" titles, series like Ms. Marvel and Thor and so on that update classic heroes with new diverse characters-- and also diverse storytelling and artistic styles. DC had a similar, if unnamed, initiative in the mid-2000s, where they revived old characters with new twists in ongoing series: a divorced female Manhunter, a Mexican-American Blue Beetle, a Chinese-American Atom, a lesbian Latina Question, and a lesbian Batwoman. Many of these series didn't last too long (there are only two The Question collections, for example), but I've long been curious about them, so I'm going to be reading them all intermixed in publication order. One of the things I like about the (pre-Flashpoint) DC universe is the sense of legacy and history, which is part of what makes me curious about these characters. They were, after all, the sixth Manhunter, the third Blue Beetle, the fourth Atom, the second Question, and the second Batwoman. Some of the books I'll be reading won't quite fit into the rubric of revivals of old characters with new, diverse premises, but were related books coming out around the same time with that interest in the history of the DCU, like Captain Atom: Armageddon, Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality, and Booster Gold.

from Manhunter vol. 3 #1

So the first up is Manhunter, in a series that began shortly before Identity Crisis. Kate Spencer is a divorced district attorney in Los Angeles, who becomes tired of the fact that that supervillains always break out of jail and kill again after she's put them away. So she decides to take the law into her own hands and track down escaped villains... and kill them. She steals superpowered equipment from the evidence locker and bullies a former henchman in witness protection into providing her with technical support. In the meantime, she has to balance her superheroics with being a mother.

She's kind of a terrible mother.
from Manhunter vol. 3 #2

Street Justice feels like a lot of set-up. I like Manhunter so far, but I would argue that not much has been done with the premise. There are the ingredients for a compelling story, but that story has not yet been told. On their surface, the stories here are pretty simple: Kate decides to become Manhunter and battles Copperhead, Kate tangles with the Shadow Thief while her son is in hospital, Kate tries to avoid the Justice League while they track down the murderer of Firestorm. Each of the stories is pretty simple in and of itself.

Dolphin'd by Aquaman! Probably hurt his dignity more than his body.
from Manhunter vol. 3 #4

It's impossible not to see the influence of Alias on this book: both are about women in law-enforcement professions, and both women are depicted as more "real" than your average superheroine, with various foibles like drugs (Jessica drank a lot, while Kate smokes) and attitude problems and being embroiled in things like bad relationships. Writer Marc Andreyko stated in his introduction that he wanted a "fully-clothed, average-busted woman," though artist Jesus Saiz seems to have compensated for this by making her outfit improbably skintight and including a lot of ass shots. (Though, Jesus Saiz is a pretty solid artist in general whose work I feel is usually confined to miniseries, so I'm happy to see him get an ongoing here.)

Is it even possible for fabric to sculpt to your buttocks so precisely? I guess we do find out in book 3 that it's alien space fabric. I wonder if the alien dude who owned the suit before Kate showed off his ass as much.
from Manhunter vol. 3 #3

What makes Manhunter work so far is the small things: Kate wondering how does Black Canary "do this in fishnets and heels" when she struggles in a supersuit, the Shadow Thief leaving a tip for his waitress, there being witness protection for supervillain henchmen (and the flashback panels showing ex-henchman Rich in different outfits as he transfers from Two-Face to Killer Frost to Black Manta), and Kate's gay assistant hitting on Aquaman when the Justice League comes to LA. Kate is definitely not an unflawed character (seriously, she is an awful mother, but then again, Batman is an awful father), but she is a "relatable" one and I look forward to seeing what Andreyko and company do with her now that the basic setup has been established.

Next Week: Manhunter returns for a Trial by Fire!

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